Spending cuts, OAS changes and giveaways to corporations are unnecessary and irresponsible, say Alberta unions
Based on the magnitude of the cuts and changes contained in today's federal budget, you'd think that Canada was about to "hit the debt wall."
But the truth is that Canada has weathered the global recession better than almost any other industrialized country – thanks largely to its natural resource wealth, decisions made by previous governments and pressure from opposition parties that stopped the previous minority Harper government from enacting harsh cuts at the height of the recession.
"Given the reality of Canada's current economic situation, there's no good reason why we should even be contemplating cuts on this scale," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"What we see with today's budget is a plan that will turn a rough patch into really tough times. It's the opposite of what this country needs. It's both unnecessary and irresponsible."
If there's a problem, McGowan says it's that the Harper government's various tax cuts have cost the federal treasury more than $200 billion since 2006. For example, the effective federal tax on corporate profits has dropped to its lowest rate since before the Second World War.
"The only reason that the Harper government isn't looking at a balanced budget right now, or at least in the very near future, is because it has given away literally hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue in a very short period of time," says McGowan.
"If there's a crisis, it's a crisis caused by the Harper government's irresponsible tax giveaways, especially to profitable corporations that are no longer being asked to pay their fair share of the cost of keeping this country running. The crime in this budget is that ordinary Canadians – especially seniors – are being forced to pay the price for Stephen Harper's ideologically driven irresponsibility."
Despite Finance Minister Flaherty's argument that the cuts really only amount to "backroom efficiencies," McGowan says ordinary Canadians will feel the bite of this budget in three important ways.
First, there will be a real and noticeable erosion in the quality of service provided by the federal government. With fewer workers, the government simply won't be able to provide the same level of service that Canadians need and expect in everything from handling passport applications to inspecting food.
Second, the Harper government's plans to restrict payments to the provinces and remove the "strings" attached to the remaining dollars will mean it will become even more difficult for provinces to pay for things like health care and more likely that governments like ours in Alberta will resort to increased privatization.
Third, by increasing the age of eligibility for OAS from 65 to 67, the Harper government will be taking thousands and thousands of dollars out of the pockets of seniors. This will force many seniors into poverty or to the brink of poverty.
"As it stands right now, Canadians between age 65 and 67 get an average of 25 per cent of their income from OAS," says McGowan. "By taking that income away, we run the risk of reversing one of the biggest public policy successes of the 20th century: which was the use of GIS and OAS to pull almost all Canadian seniors out of poverty."
McGowan points out that the attack on OAS is particularly galling because the federal government's own Parliamentary Budget Officer has concluded that the current OAS system is affordable and that increasing the eligibility age to 67 is unnecessary and unwarranted.
"The real thread that runs through this budget has to do with gifts and giveaways to Stephen Harper's corporate friends," concludes McGowan.
"The cuts to public-sector jobs and benefits are being made so Harper can finance his tax giveaway to big business. His changes to OAS eligibility rules are being made to address business concerns about a looming labour shortage – just make seniors work longer! And the so-called streamlining of approvals for resource projects is really a gift to oil companies so they no longer have to worry about pesky things like environmental impacts and the public good.
"In many ways, this is more than a budget: it's a road map towards a conservative future in which corporations matter more than citizens. The Harper government should be ashamed of itself ... and ordinary Canadians should be deeply concerned."
CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888
Re: "Assuring Alberta's prosperity," Mark Milke, Opinion, March 25.
Mark Milke disputes Alberta Federation of Labour attacks on the province's funding of health care and education by situating Alberta's per capita funding in the context of national averages. Since Alberta is above the national aver-age for spending on both counts, he concludes that AFL complaints are unwarranted. This is dubious logic, since the national average itself is dramatically below what it should be.
Alberta is simply the best of a very bad lot.
Nationwide we have witnessed a dramatic concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few over the past two decades, not, as Milke wants us to believe, a great increase in the funding of public services. A 2011 study from the OECD showed Canada's wage gap between rich and poor at a record high, well above the 34-country average. Since the 1990s, the report says, the "redistributive effect" of Canada's taxation system has declined, and the wages of the richest 0.1 per cent have more than doubled.
The most unequal province in Canada is British Columbia; Alberta ranks third.
The corporate tax rate in Canada was 40 per cent in the boom period of the postwar era, and 40 years later, it is 15 per cent.
The oil and gas royalty rates in Alberta are unquestionably low. Last week, the Parkland Institute published a study in which it estimates the government of Alberta will forgo $55 billion in revenues over the next three years because of overly generous royalty cuts.
In other words, public services are being starved across Canada, while the rich are getting much richer; in Alberta, this is doubly so, since the province has a booming industry that could provide more tax revenues, instead of funnelling profits to already-rich multinational energy corporations.
Michael Truscello, Calgary
Calgary Herald, Sun Mar 27 2012
If Albertans employed in the energy sector ever wonder why some people underestimate the vast contributions made by the oil and gas industry to Alberta's prosperity, a new ad from the Alberta Federation of Labour provides a clue.
In a recent newsletter sent to Alberta's nurses, the province's umbrella organization for unions published a one-page ad that portrays a balding energy company executive sitting at a hefty desk with his large whisky carafe beside him. The Dickens-like figure intones, "Your provincial government would rather underfund its own education and health-care systems than charge me and my energy company an extra penny in taxes or royalties."
The ad and its accompanying website are a mishmash of error-prone assertions. Here's one in particular: "Albertans are being forced to give up the basics." Health care and education are mentioned as specifically underfunded.
Time for a fact check: On health care, in 2011, Alberta's public expenditures amounted to $4,528 per capita, second only to Newfoundland at $5,077. The national average last year was $3,778.
However, adjusted for age and sex (useful given that people at different life stages use the health-care system less or more), Alberta spent more than any other province, at $4,408 per capita; that compares to Newfoundland at $4,273 and a national average of $3,526. (In this latter measurement, I've used 2009 figures as that's the latest year available from the Canadian Institute for Health Information on this comparison.)
On education, let's compare consolidated provincial and municipal government spending on education, which allows for apple-toapple comparisons.
Alberta, on a per-capita basis, spent above the national average on education between 1998 until at least 2008, and perhaps beyond that year as well. (The information cited next is from Statistics Canada and the agency discontinued its comparisons after 2008.)
To add some eagle-eye clarity on overall Alberta program spending, here are the numbers: Measured per capita and accounting for inflation, such spending hit a high of $11,781 per person in fiscal 1986, dropped in the mid-1990s to as low as $6,959, and rose again to $10,489 by 2009 (all figures in 2011 dollars and adjusted for inflation). Budget 2012 estimates per capita program spending will be about $10,300 this year, so historically, the provincial government is at the high end of such spending patterns.
Those are the facts. Critically, they don't even address the question of whether Albertans are getting the best bang for their buck from their tax dollars. (That's another column.)
Despite Alberta's penchant for high per capita spending, the AFL wants significantly higher taxes and royalties. It mentions how $11 billion could be raised before Alberta's tax rates exceed that of the next lowest taxed province, British Columbia.
Problem: That estimate doesn't take into account that it is precisely Alberta's moderate tax levels and reasonable royalty rates that, in part, foster this province's job creation dynamo. It is partly why, for example, compared to June 2009 (the last month of Canada's recession) and February this year, Alberta now has 144,000 more full-time jobs. Alberta thus accounts for 28 per cent of the half million new full-time jobs created since mid-2009 across Canada, even though Alberta has just 11 per cent of the country's population.
For the record, it's not that royalty rates can never be reconsidered. Royalties are rents and owners of buildings, property or resources are entitled to charge whatever they want - but those who get greedy will kill the golden goose. It's why landlords who charge too-high rents will find themselves without tenants. The same applies to too-high royalties on oil and gas extraction.
This is a lesson everyone should have learned after Ed Stelmach's disastrous "fair share" increases on the energy sector. Stelmach's increases were reversed precisely because they made some oil and gas exploration uneconomic and killed jobs.
As for higher taxes, for decades, taxes in Alberta went just one way: up. It was not until some reductions were made in the late 1990s that Albertans finally saw some relief. It would be a mistake to reverse that, especially as it's long overdue to examine public sector wages, benefits and pensions to bring them in line with the private sector. That action is how the government should balance its books, not through counter-productive job-killing increases to royalty and tax rates.
Ironically, the Alberta Federation of Labour's call for higher taxes and royalties, if ever enacted, would kill off some of the jobs created over the past two years, including those performed by some of its own private sector members.
Calgary Herald, Sun Mar 25 2012
Byline: Mark Milke (Fraser Institute/Director of Alberta Prosperity Initiative)
City council displayed a brilliant act of mathemagic Monday by shuffling the no-win hand dealt by the province to keep the property tax increase at six per cent. It's still a huge tax increase, one of the highest in years. What also shouldn't get lost in the budget wizardry is the broken promise from the Redford government.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford promised no new tax increases or levies would be brought forward in the budget, expected to pass today. Instead, the government's tax grab came through the backdoor, when it demanded some $1.8 billion more in education property taxes — a full
$107 million more than it collected from Alberta property taxpayers in 2011.
For Calgarians, that equals an increase of $34.8 million in the education portion of the property taxes for 2012 over 2011. This is an increase nearly 10 times higher than the increase taken in 2011.
While technically true that the mill rate hasn't increased, what the province has decided to do is apply that rate on the rise in assessed property values. Not only is the province's actual dollar take increasing because of new housing and developments now paying property taxes, it is charging the mill rate to the total value of a property. The last time it did this was in 2004.
It's clearly a tax hike, but one that is underhanded, hidden and conveniently complex enough to cause great confusion among ratepayers.
The city's policy is to keep property assessments revenue-neutral, to maintain a level of certainty and stability for property owners, and shelter the tax rate from the boom-and-bust cycles of real estate. That the province can, on a whim, decide to apply the mill rate to property value proves the need for stable, certain funding for municipalities. The province, this year, is essentially treating the assessed value of property much like it would income, whereby any increase in income is taxed at the appropriate rate.
The city has adjusted the numbers so that the province gets its 10-fold increase in the education portion of the municipal tax bill, while charging all rate payers, both residential and non-residential, the same combined six per cent increase. It's done this by taking advantage of the decline in property values on the non-residential side, which hasn't experienced the boom that the residential side has seen. On paper, it appears that businesses are being hit harder to soften the blow for residential taxpayers. In reality, it is pretty much a wash.
Unfortunately, the move does send a negative message to small and mid-sized companies in Calgary, who already feel city policies are anti-business. Business taxes are an increasingly big burden on independent upstarts trying to compete, create jobs and contribute to the economy. Passing on a tax break once in awhile would create much good will, and might even help some of them keep the lights on.
To suggest this is anything but a tax increase is a smoke-and-mirrors trick worthy of a master illusionist. Worse, the province has created chaos at the local level by changing the rules around its share of the property taxes. Cities deliver the services that citizens most need.
More than ever, municipalities need a funding formula that prevents the province from offering anything but predictable and sustainable funding.
Calgary Herald, Mon Mar 19 2012
EDMONTON - The Alberta Federation of Labour says energy companies exploited a loophole in the province's drilling stimulus programs, forcing the province to spend about $2.9 billion, more than double the projected cost.
Government officials, however, say the incentive programs worked to stimulate the economy during the economic downturn and created jobs during the recession.
Federation spokesman Gil McGowan said Wednesday that documents obtained under access to information laws show it is clear the energy companies were squeezing as much out of the program as possible, at Albertans' expense.
"The governments' own staff knew that certain energy companies were gaming the system," McGowan said. "They presented that evidence to senior decision-makers within the government bureaucracy who have the ear of cabinet ministers.
"They could have taken action. They didn't."
McGowan said the federation is not against incentive programs that put people to work but that "there has to be some performance measures, there has to be some oversight.
"These foregone royalties represent the lion's share of the deficit, which the government has used to justify massive cuts to social services and public infrastructure," McGowan said.
"The government is telling Albertans the cupboard is bare for public services, but it's bare in large measure because of this irresponsible and out-of-control corporate giveaway."
Alberta's Drilling Incentive Program was announced in March 2009 to stimulate the economy during the recession.
It included three programs: the Drilling Royalty Credit, the New Well Incentive and the $30-million Orphan Well Fund.
The government originally said the incentives would cost about $1.6 billion in foregone royalty revenue over two years.
Budget documents show that in 2009, costs ballooned to $1.2 billion from the estimated $842 million. In 2010, costs surged to $1.8 billion from the original $732 million estimate.
The final price tag for the Drilling Incentive Programs was about $2.9 billion, roughly $1.3 billion over the budget.
Of that spending, the Drilling Royalty Credit accounted for $1.7 billion, more than triple the original estimated of $466 million. The New Well Incentive program cost for $1.2 billion, just over the initial estimated of $1 billion.
The documents released by the federation suggest bureaucrats knew the Drilling Royalty Credit program was going over-budget because energy companies were swapping credits on a "grey market" to increase the incentives they received.
Energy Minister Ted Morton said he was aware of the credit swapping.
"I was aware of the fact that the program was costing more than we anticipated. We looked at it, and we were getting good pick up and it was creating more jobs," Morton said.
"At the time we thought that if it gets the rigs back working again, then it's achieving its effect."
In 2009, fewer than one in five drilling rigs were working in Alberta. By 2010, that figure had climbed to one in three, due in part to the stimulus programs, Morton said.
Similarly, the number of rigs working had dropped to 141 in 2009 as a result of the recession. In 2010, 237 rigs were up and working.
Gary Leach, executive director of Small Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, said governments around the world launched stimulus packages at the time.
"I don't believe that companies were gaming the system," he said. "This wasn't a loophole. The program was designed to make sure the companies spent the money because the government wanted to make sure the companies were investing. ... These credits were designed to be transferred."
Leach said most of the money was spent in rural Alberta where "it gets turned into jobs, it gets turned into property taxes for rural areas, and it turns into royalty streams for the government.
"Two years later, I think it was a success. Nobody is looking for another one."
Edmonton Journal, Wed Mar 7 2012
Byline: Karen Kleiss
February 21 2012: Beyond Acute Care Conference; Better Way Alberta; Budget 2012; farm workers; HSAA information pickets
Last chance to see Ralph Nader and Maude Barlow at Beyond Acute Care Conference
- You have only until tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday, Feb. 22) to register for the Beyond Acute Care: Covering Seniors and the Disabled with the Medicare Umbrella. This is an important event affecting all Albertans, bringing in experts from around the world and across Canada, including world-renowned consumer advocate Ralph Nader and Maude Barlow, of the Council of Canadians. For information on the conference and to register, click here; want to find out what the conference is all about? Watch this great animated video here.
For information about the speakers at the Beyond Acute Care conference, click here ...
Great video ad shows there is a Better Way for Alberta
- It just doesn't add up! Alberta is one of the wealthiest jurisdictions on Earth, but can't seem to find enough money to adequately fund the public services that Albertans want, including health care and education. The reason? Our tax and royalty system is broken and wealthy individuals and corporations aren't paying their fair share. But there is a Better Way. Watch the great video ad for Better Way Alberta. Here the cheeky radio ads, follow the campaign on Twitter and like the Facebook page at www.BetterWayAlberta.ca. For more information ...
Tax and royalty giveaways continue in Alberta's Budget 2012
- The first budget from Conservative Premier Alison Redford showed that little has changed in the government's attitude to the oil industry and wealthy corporations. There was no sign of an end to billions of dollars in tax and royalty giveaways and no honest conversation with Albertans on how to fix the province's broken revenue system. For more information ...
Alberta government must act now to prevent farm-worker tragedy
- A transportation tragedy on the scale that killed 11 farm workers in Ontario in early February is looming in Alberta unless the government acts now to prevent it, says the AFL. It called on the Conservatives to close the legal loopholes that allow farm workers to be transported in the back of open trucks and in other dangerous vehicles now - not to wait until there's a tragic accident in this province. For more information ...
Join HSAA members on information pickets - HSAA will be holding information pickets tomorrow (Wednesday, Feb. 22)from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Bargaining with AHS broke down after 10 months when they finally tabled a monetary package that included an "offer" of 0, 0 and Cost of Living and failed to address the issues brought forward by the HSAA membership. Please show you support by joining them at the following locations:
- Edmonton: University of Alberta Hospital - 112th Street entrance
- Edmonton: Royal Alexandra Hospital - Kingsway Avenue
- Edmonton: Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital - 111th Avenue
- Calgary: Foothills Medical Centre - Main Entrance on 29th St. NW
- Calgary: Peter Lougheed Centre - 36th St. NE
- Red Deer: Red Deer Regional Hospital - 50A Ave
- Medicine Hat: Medicine Hat Regional Hospital - 5 St. SW
- Fort McMurray: Northern Lights Regional Health Centre - Hospital Street
- Grand Prairie: Queen Elizabeth II Hospital - 105 Ave
HSAA President Elisabeth Ballermann will be addressing the media from the University of Alberta Hospital picket.
For further information, visit http://www.hsaa.ca/home
- Attend the Calgary launch of Kevin Taft's Follow the Money - Ever wonder why Alberta's so rich, but our schools and hospitals seem to be so poor? MLA Kevin Taft has the answer in his new book, Follow the Money, and accompanying video documentary by award-winning producer Tom Radford. Join us for the Calgary launch of Follow the Money at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 23, at Memorial Park Library, 1221 2 Street S.W., Calgary. For details ... To view a clip from the documentary, click here ... For more information on the book ...
- February 24-25: Beyond Acute Care conference with Ralph Nader and Maude Barlow
- February 24-26: EDLC Annual Labour School
- March 8: International Women's Day
- March 21: International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination
- March 21-23: CUPE Alberta 62nd Annual Convention
- March 22: World Water Day
- April 3: International Day for Mine Awareness
- April 6: World Health Day
- April 21: Earth Day
- April 27: International Day of Mourning for workers who have been killed, suffer disease or injury as a result of work.
A concerted effort is now underway to ensure that Albertans have a "conversation" about current levels of taxation.
Fair enough, but it seems that conversation is code for convincing Albertans that we need higher levels of taxation.
What this conversation will require, therefore, is a voice willing to make the case against higher taxes and to even go a step further and make the case for a shift away from the most damaging forms of taxation.
There are positive things that can be said for the status quo, and it is curious that the architects of the status quo are so hesitant to defend it.
The governing Tories don't shy away from boasting about Alberta's enviable economic position or their role in creating it, but now those same Tories are the ones who are suggesting that the status quo is no longer sustainable.
After tabling his budget last week, Finance Minister Ron Liepert spoke of the need to "move toward a more sustainable revenue base."
Of course, this will all take place after the upcoming provincial election. Liepert says this "thorough conversation" about our fiscal framework cannot be done "in the space of a few weeks prior to an election."
Yes, heaven forbid we should have a serious conversation about an important issue in the context of a provincial election campaign. After all, what would an election be without platitudes and demagogy?
The Alberta Liberals, to their credit, are not taking the coward's way out. They, like the Tories, believe we need a more sustainable revenue base, and as such, their platform is calling for higher taxes.
The Liberals would introduce higher rates ranging from 13 per cent all the way up to 17 per cent for those earning over $100,000. The Liberals would also raise Alberta's corporate tax rate from 10 to 12 per cent.
Such proposals are very much in line with those being advocated in a new ad campaign from the Alberta Federation of Labour and Public Interest Alberta.
The ads question why high income earners and profitable corporations aren't paying more, and argue that we could easily ask them to do so and still have relatively low tax rates.
Of course, high income earners do contribute a great deal. According to Alberta Finance, the top 15 per cent of income earners in the province pay over two-thirds of income taxes.
We should also be careful about the assumption that higher tax rates would mean higher revenues and have no other impact.
Take Quebec, for example, which has some of the highest tax rates among the provinces: 16 per cent, 20 per cent, and 24 per cent. Presumably, those much higher rates should generate much higher levels of revenue. Except they don't. In fact, Alberta's 10 per cent flat tax generates more personal income tax revenue on a per-capita basis than Quebec's higher rates do.
Moreover, increasing taxes on capital is going to have all sorts of negative impacts on the economy. So, too, will the removing of the simplicity and efficiency of the flat tax.
Raising corporate taxes could be even more detrimental. There's no shortage of evidence showing that higher corporate taxes are associated with lower rates of growth, lower wages and lower productivity.
A study last September from economists Bev Dahlby at the University of Alberta and Ergete Ferede at Grant MacEwan University found that corporate taxes are the worst taxes for governments to raise. The most efficient way of generating revenue, they conclude, is through a sales tax.
Research from the University of Calgary's Jack Mintz — perhaps the country's leading expert on the subject — suggests strongly that Alberta needs to head in this direction.
Mintz estimates that an eight per cent sales tax would allow Alberta to cut income and corporate tax rates in half. That would provide a true sustainable revenue source and would provide the benefits that would come with shifting away from the most economically damaging forms of taxation.
Unfortunately, we remain stuck between those proposing harmful tax increases and opponents of tax increases who shy away from changes that could further strengthen Alberta's economic position.
This "conversation" is off to a rough start.
Calgary Herald, Feb 13 2012
Byline: Rob Breakenridge
EDMONTON - Premier Alison Redford's Alberta Tories delivered a pre-election budget Thursday that increased spending to record levels and raided billions from the piggy bank, but promised the province will be out of the red within a year.
There are no tax hikes, no new taxes, no significant program cuts and no job layoffs. And there is more money to pay for everything from new police officers to smaller class sizes to student loans.
"We've delivered a budget that Albertans said they would support," Finance Minister Ron Liepert told reporters before delivering the 2012-13 spending document.
"That's our job: to listen to Albertans."
The plan is predicated on the price of oil staying high and even soaring to an average of US$108 a barrel by 2014, prompting the opposition Wildrose party to label the premier "Alison in Wonderland."
It currently sits close to US$100 a barrel.
The bottom line amounts to an $886 million deficit, the fifth in a row after 14 years of surpluses.
The budget boosts government spending by 3.3 per cent to a record $41.1 billion.
Program spending is up almost seven per cent, with substantial raises for education, health, cities and money for the most vulnerable.
The bills are to be paid for with rising oil revenues, higher taxes from a growing population and a $3.7-billion drawdown from the $7.5-billion Sustainability Fund.
The budget projects that with oil revenues and population growth, there will be a $952-million budget surplus next year and a $5.2-billion surplus the year after that.
Liepert denied the government is doing a pre-election bait-and-switch by tabling a feel-good budget that will be followed after the election by job and program cuts when the Tories conduct a government-wide financial review.
"There is no hidden agenda here," said Liepert.
"If somebody is trying to draw a scenario that somehow after the election we're going to come up with all these bogeyman theories, well, let them go ahead, because they're going to be wrong."
Redford has promised to pass the budget, then drop the writ on a general election, with a campaign likely to begin in mid-March. The Tories currently hold a huge majority of the seats in the legislature and have been in power for 40 years, but are being challenged on the right by the Wildrose.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said the Tories are budgeting on a wish and a prayer.
"It's an Alison in Wonderland budget," said Smith.
"We're going into a budget with fantasy land projections so (the Tories) can manufacture a surplus. There's no possible way these numbers are going to work. They have no discipline on spending."
Brian Mason, leader of the NDP, agreed that the Tories are handing out "goodies" based on unrealistic projections. He said if Redford's team wins the election it will then either hike taxes or cut jobs.
"This budget is a little bit of dust in the eyes of Alberta citizens," said Mason.
Raj Sherman of the Alberta Liberals said the only way to be realistic about revenue is to move from the province's 10 per cent flat tax to a progressive one targeting the wealthy.
Sherman said his team will do that.
"The tough question is: Which leader has the political cojones to be honest to the people and bring in a fair, progressive tax for those earning over $100,000 a year?" he said.
However, the Alberta School Boards Association said it was pleased with more education spending, saying it will give school boards the flexibility they need to respond to community needs.
"We are cautiously optimistic but the reality is that only a portion of that increase is in base student funding," said president Jacquie Hansen. "As a result, school boards will be challenged to do more than just maintain the programming and services they have."
The Alberta Federation of Labour criticized the budget for giving away too much in taxes and oil royalties, and Public Interest Alberta said while it was pleased about AISH increases, it noted cuts to funding for new affordable housing.
The budget invests heavily in core areas.
There will be an almost eight per cent increase in operating funds for the Health Department and a six per cent increase in operating funds for Alberta Health Services, which delivers front-line care.
Operating budgets for grade schools are going up 3.4 per cent to $6.2 billion. There will be more money for smaller class sizes and for busing.
Post-secondary institutions are to see a 2.7 per cent boost to their operating funds to nearly $2.9 billion. An extra infusion of cash will buttress bursaries, grants and help students with their loans.
Payments under the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped are to go up by one-third to $1,588 a month along with a rise in how much someone on the program can earn before clawbacks kick in.
Income support rates are to go up five per cent for Albertans in 34,000 homes who are training for work, looking for work or unable to work.
About $16.5 billion is to be allocated over the next three years to build schools, hospitals, roads, and other infrastructure.
This year, 14 new schools are expected to come on line, along with new medical facilities in Calgary and Edmonton. Work on a cancer-care centre in Red Deer continues.
Money is also to go to municipalities to hire 90 more Mounties and 55 more sheriffs. There will be 180 additional correctional officers and staff for a new Remand Centre in Edmonton.
There's also $11 million to boost environmental monitoring in the oilsands region.
All the bills are to be paid for by a roaring petro-powered economy expected to grow by 3.8 per cent in 2012.
The government is budgeting revenues at a record $40.3 billion.
Resource revenue will account for $11.2 billion — half of that from the oilsands alone.
Taxes are not up, but tax revenue is — close to $18 billion, half of which will come from personal income taxes.
Along with the budget Thursday, the government also delivered its third-quarter update for the current budget year. The province is on track for a $1.3-billion deficit for 2011-12 — much less than the $3.4 billion projected at budget time last year. The government credits higher than expected resource and tax revenues.
The Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, a rainy day account that is separate from the Sustainability Fund, reports net assets of $14.4 billion as of the end of 2011.
The Alberta Federation of Labour called the budget a story of billions in giveaways.
Winnipeg Free Press, Fri Feb 10, 2012
"No honest conversation with Albertans on Revenues in Budget 2012" – McGowan
Edmonton – Alberta cannot hope to have great health and education services and fewer deficits without ending corporate tax and royalty giveaways, says Gil McGowan.
McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says today's budget tells the story of billions in giveaways.
Final numbers for the Conservatives' "drilling stimulus initiative" were provided and showed the government gave oil and gas companies $1.77 billion last year, for a total of nearly $3 billion. About $1 billion of drilling stimulus initiatives have been made a permanent feature of the royalty regime.
"The Conservatives have, once again, overlooked the real problem: they've simply given away too much in taxes and royalties. And that's creating unnecessary deficits and unwarranted pressure on services that matter to Albertans."
"No Alberta budget will ever be a good budget until we fix our broken system for generating revenue," concludes McGowan.
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-218-9888 (cell)
It was either the best of Throne Speeches or it was the worst of Throne Speeches. Heck, maybe it was both at the same time.
Yesterday being the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, maybe there's something powerfully symbolic in that assessment of the first Throne Speech by the Progressive Conservative government of Alison Redford.
If the purpose of a Speech from the Throne, as historically has been agreed, is to set out the broad goals of the government and describe the initiatives it will undertake to accomplish those goals, then yesterday's speech was a spectacular failure.
Indeed, it was breathtaking in its vacuity. Talk about low-bridging it! This speech was so content-free the Tory barge could slip unnoticed under any bridge, no matter how close the deck was to the water.
To call this speech the Electrolux Speech does it a disservice. It was so unenlightening it made one think of a stellar black hole -- dense enough to attract matter, even light, into its dark core!
Oh, the speech haltingly read by Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell was replete with cheerful sentiments -- "your government will make Alberta the best jurisdiction anywhere... ," "your government will treat Albertans' money with the same care and respect they do, spending wisely on the services Albertans count on for an outstanding quality of life... ," "your government will provide seniors with the supports, services and care they need to remain healthy, happy and productive... ," "patients in need of medical attention will be able to get it." Yadda-yadda.
There were even a few choice comparisons of the Alison Redford Tories to the Peter Lougheed Tories -- though without a whiff of the "bold" and "imaginative" policies that made even Lougheed's enemies respect his leadership. As Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan quipped after the speech: "Peter Lougheed said hi to my Grade 8 class when we visited the Legislature! Premier, you're no Peter Lougheed..."
Between that stuff and the four closing references to God -- "May God bless you all; God bless Alberta; God bless Canada; God save the Queen!" -- there was barely a hint about how any of this is going to be achieved. No, that's not quite right. There were no hints at all!
The broad goals of this government are clear enough: heavenly perfection right here on the Great Plains. The initiatives to be undertaken to accomplish it? Insufficient data.
The closest thing to even a hint of a hint in the speech was the suggestion that since the province's "current fiscal framework relies too heavily on volatile energy revenue as a source of income ... it's fine for foundational change. It won't be easy, but it is the right way to better manage the annual unpredictably in the budgeting process."
Say what? Foundational change? That's it? Oh yeah, and we'll have zero-based budgeting, except that we'll call it something else.
The Wildrose Party will say this means new taxes. Possibly some of the other parties will too. Maybe someone will wonder if this means no petroleum royalties. The Redford Tories, one expects, will just smile and say very little at all. And that one's about the only line in the whole speech anyone is going to be able to get their teeth into!
Look, it's perfectly clear what's going on here. The government's strategy -- doubtless devised by Stephen Carter, Premier Redford's demonstrably clever chief of staff -- is to say nothing, nothing at all, that can get the government in trouble.
Their own polls look good, and some of the others do too, although there are dark hints that a Sun poll today may contain some surprises. But the PCs are clearly counting on being able to coast through another election without a major upheaval. Describing an actual policy in detail might give the opposition something to take shots at, so no policies will be described.
"We thought they were going to give us a few piñatas to take a whack at," a wistful Wildrose advisor commented, a little plaintively. "There's nothing there."
That's almost certainly Carter's idea. The only question is whether or not it will work. The jury's still out on that, of course.
One seasoned political veteran told me with a straight face he couldn't believe Albertans would fall for it. "It's insulting!"
But the same strategy in the hands of the late Senator Keith Davy worked for Pierre Trudeau in the 1980 federal campaign, as Trudeau press secretary Patrick Gossage recalls fondly in this 2011 tribute to the Senator. At any rate, it spelled the end of Joe Clark, although it was left to another Conservative named Brian Mulroney to actually dispatch that poor fellow.
Gossage says of the campaign technique we are witnessing now in the hands of Carter: "This was and is ... the classic strategy for politicians leading in the polls."
It would be fair, though, to say that Carter is taking it farther than most political strategists would dare to advise their charges, although one would think there would have to be a few more details in the Budget.
If it works, as it very well may, Carter will be hailed as a genius. If it doesn't, well, all we can say for sure is that any failure is bound to be spectacular.
All that remains to be seen is when Carter will advise his premier to call an election.
Will the Conservatives really wait until after the Legislature has debated and passed the budget that will be introduced by Finance Minister Ron Liepert tomorrow? Third Reading would come in late March, with an election late in April.
Assuming another Conservative victory -- as the Conservatives obviously do -- that would let them run the province for the better part of the year without the nuisance of having to answer annoying Opposition questions in the Legislature.
Or will they find some excuse to pull the plug sooner, once they see how the public has responded to the budget?
rabble.ca, Wed Feb 8 2012